One of the most impactful influences in my life was my grandmother. She would often say the most powerful thing you can do in life is to make a decision.
Six years ago, at 38, I decided to pursue an MBA at the University of Miami. I was fraught with fear, mostly because I completed my bachelor’s degree almost 15 years prior. However, I knew this decision would be a defining moment and have a significant effect on my life’s trajectory. I also knew that if I could do this, I would show my future children that anything is possible.
Two years later, my grandmother beamed as she watched me collect my well-earned graduate degree. I did it! Two years later, my grandmother, who encouraged and supported me, was diagnosed with lung cancer. One year later, almost to the day, she passed away. The pain was immeasurable, and the loss, irreplaceable.
In retrospect, these two defining moments have made me a more resilient, focused and agile leader. This is largely because I knew what constituted a defining moment and how to move forward.
What is a defining moment?
A defining moment is a point in your life when you’re urged to make a pivotal decision, or when you experience something that fundamentally changes you. Not only do these moments define us, but they have a transformative effect on our perceptions and behaviors.
Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg powerfully wrote about one of her defining moments, the sudden death of her husband on vacation. Option B, the title of Sheryl’s book, is a roadmap on how to effectively define your defining moments: face the adversity, build resilience and find joy.
Moments that are truly defining will force you to ask “why,” often challenge your beliefs/norms, and force you to behave differently.
How do leaders move forward?
Think of a moment when your true character was revealed, you had an opportunity to excel, or you saw something with greater clarity. Inevitably, the road of life will be bumpy, testing your commitment to your purpose. But some individuals see bumps in the road of life as obstacles, while some see them as opportunities.
Leaders quickly recognize their defining moments and move forward by:
1. Being resilient and embracing adversity: The irony of a defining moment is that if you don’t define it, it will surely define you. View these moments as an opportunity to learn and grow, and do not let them make you stagnant. Compartmentalize the moment and quickly find purpose. For example, my grandmother’s rapid demise made me a highly committed cancer advocate.
2. Acknowledging fear: Best-selling author and entrepreneur Tim Ferriss says, “What we fear doing most is usually what we most need to do.” The beauty of a defining moment is that it usually forces us to face our fears head on and take action. I can personally attest to how scary it is, but also how much better you will become. Acknowledging fear helps mitigate the potential paralyzing effects.
3. Quickly recalibrating: Recalibrating is a function of taking an honest assessment of where you are. To move forward, we often need to know why something occurred. But sometimes, we can’t identify our why as quickly as we would like. With stillness and meditation come clarity and answers. Yoga is a great way to process an event, calm the mind, and figure out what to do next. Your why is the foundation for building your action plan to move forward. It is essential to think beyond the defining moment and open yourself up to the innumerable lessons.
4. Creating a (solutions-based) action plan: Billionaire magnate, investor, engineer, and inventor Elon Musk is known for creating action plans. From a business perspective, action plans are essential to help us benchmark progress. For me, prior to entering graduate school, I did a personal SWOT analysis to assess my skill sets and gaps. By doing this, I was able to begin my studies with the end in mind, fully aware of what was required of me to complete my studies successfully. Your plan doesn’t have to be complex, but it must be specific. It’s your roadmap for moving forward, and it lets you know how far you have come.
So long as we identify them quickly and make the decision to move forward, we all have the ability to define our defining moments. Will you?